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What the Fears Surrounding Coronavirus Mean to Me as Someone With a Chronic Illness

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If you’re like me, you’ve seen almost every single update regarding the new coronavirus (COVID-19). According to the World Health Organization (WHO), coronaviruses are a family of illnesses ranging from the common cold to more serious illnesses like Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV).

A novel coronavirus (like the one we’ve been hearing about in the news) is a new strain of coronavirus that hasn’t been identified before. So far, the new strain of coronavirus has 14 total confirmed cases in the United States.

I’m not writing this to alarm anyone, but I’m one of the thousands of people all around the world with a chronic condition and immunosuppression, which makes this whole experience a difficult one. Of my 25 years, I’ve seen new types of flus and viruses getting discovered and being spread all around the world, and somehow it never crossed my mind that I could be affected. I was healthy, and so basically thought “not my circus, not my monkeys.” (I know; selfish, innocent and somehow lucky little girl.)

But since living with arthritis, I’ve seen the consequences of it, not only on my joints or mobility, but on my immune system too, which went down the drain since the start of immunosuppressants eight months ago. I had this early stage in which every person was a potential virus I could get, every cut was an infection waiting to happen and in which I felt I had to be isolated in a crystal ball to avoid all of Earth’s dangers. I like to believe that we all go through this stage, because we are told that after a shot we’ll be in our most vulnerable stage, health-wise. Days passed by, and even though I still use my flu mask when I’m in “risky” environments like hospitals, airplanes and elevators, or I don’t have physical contact with people who can be contagious, my life is pretty easy going right now.

And then the coronavirus appeared. I’m a lucky gal — in my country there are no reported cases, so I’m safe. But still, simple tasks like buying flu masks are difficult because they are selling out, and some countries won’t do international shipping. It’s hard to go on Twitter and see posters in which I recognize myself as part of the vulnerable population that can face harder consequences. It’s hard to think about all my fellow arthritis warriors all around the world and their fear, or the generalized fear of all of us who have a chronic illness, which we didn’t choose, but here we are facing yet another unexpected consequence of it. Because if every time I hear someone sneezing behind me sends chills down my spine, I cannot put into words what other members of this community might feel being at risk, in a country where they can be infected not only by coronavirus, but by every single one of the mutant viruses that are appearing nowadays. And these words won’t have a happy, cheerful ending, but rather a feeling of support and community.

I know that we are all scared; I know we are frustrated; I know that we have cursed our illnesses a little more over the last couple of weeks. It’s OK to be scared, and believe me, I don’t think anyone has an answer for that. We are all just fighters with a whole lotta fears wrapped around faith and hope. And we are not alone — we have each other.

Follow this journey on the author’s blog.

Updated February 27, 2020

Originally published: February 12, 2020
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